In the early 1960s up till the late 1990s, the area used to be very popular among revelers from within and outside Lagos. Day and night, it was the place to be. Ask anybody around Yaba, Ojuelegba and even other parts of mainland Lagos and you won’t miss your way. Empire – a cluster of streets in the heart of Mushin, one of the city’s most densely populated areas, housing several chalets and offering plenty of cheap sex, drugs and alcohol was the name on many people’s lips. The arrival of Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, around 1962, increased traffic to the area. In those days, the area known as Empire which derived its name from Empire Hotel situated on Oguntokun Street, could be likened to a modern day ‘Sodom’ – immorality thrived at every corner.
Though, still playing host to a number of hotels, drinking joints and spots where drugs of all kinds are experimented, Empire has lost some of its spark over the years, with only few people turning to it today for entertainment. But even with such reduced traffic, commercial sex workers operating in the community remain one of the most patronised in Lagos. Charging as low as N500 for a round of sex in some cases, clients from far and near ensure the industry is well and alive.
However, some of the ladies in the illicit profession told our correspondent who visited the area earlier in the week that much of what they earn these days go to policemen who come in weekly to collect compulsory ‘settlements’. According to a handful that interacted with our correspondent after they were assured their identities won’t be revealed, each lady pays between N7000 and N8000 every week to the leader of the hotel where they ‘hustle’. The fee, they revealed, covers rent for the week and ‘tax’ for the police among other such bills. The pressure of meeting up with such weekly obligation is taking its toll on many of the prostitutes who prospect for clients in Empire.
“Whether you work in a week or not, you must pay the regular dues to the head of the hotel,” said one of the ladies whom our correspondent chatted up at ‘White House’, one of several chalets dotting the community’s landscape. “Each of us who ‘hustle’ here pays N8000 every week to our boss who then ‘settles’ the police from it after removing money for rent and other levies. We are over 15 ‘hustling’ here and if you calculate what the police is making from each of us every week, then you’ll see that they are the ones benefiting from our ‘hard work’. If we fail to ‘settle’ them, they’ll come in to harass and intimidate us.
“For the eight months that I have worked here, I have seen a lot of things. It is just as if we have become ATMs for the police; we are like a source of income or a money pot for them. Just to meet up with their demand and avoid harassment, most of us now have to work more than we should. It has not been easy in recent times,” she said.
At ‘Cool Corner’, another hotel in the community where ladies of different ages and sizes flaunt their ‘assets’ in wait for prospective customers, one commercial sex worker who told our correspondent that she was 24 years old and had been servicing ‘clients’ who visit the place since 2012, revealed that the constant demand by police officers has become a big source of worry for many of them. According to her, at least each lady ‘hustling’ at the hotel pays around N5000 as ‘settlement’ to law enforcement officers every week aside from what they churn out for rent.
“It is not as if those of us doing this job are proud of it, no. Many of us are doing it because we don’t have other means of survival. But to now imagine that most of what we manage to make these days go into ‘settling’ the police, is really annoying. They don’t come to us directly, they deal with our boss but then we are the ones suffering the whole thing. The money these people make from us every week is just too much,” she said.
But apart from the dilemma now faced by commercial sex workers in this Lagos neighbourhood, the spate of crime in the area in recent times has reduced life to a living nightmare for many of its residents, especially parents with young boys and girls. Some, for fear of the morals of their children, put them in boarding schools and also give them out to live with relatives and friends in other parts of the state and country.
“My wife and I decided to let them live with my sister at Ojota just to protect them,” Okoli said. “They are little girls still growing up and we don’t want them to be corrupted by what people are doing here. Our fear is that there is no way they would grow up here and won’t be influenced one way or the other by the lifestyle here. Many of the ladies are prostitutes while the young men are into drugs and other crimes. I don’t want such for my children. We want them to have a better life than ours,” he stated.
“Allegations like this, as funny as they sound, are not new to the police. The brothels are seen in most cases as criminal hideouts and if there is any suspicion of harbouring any criminal in such places; the police have a right to raid such places regardless of whether prostitutes operate there or not. In the process of such raids, the prostitutes themselves could be arrested if they have been found to be working with the wanted criminals.
“Most times when they make this type of allegation, it’s to blackmail the police to stop doing their good work. There is no issue of extortion; it is just a case of blackmail especially since the Command embarked on a massive onslaught on criminals in Lagos. Criminal hideouts and black spots are being raided daily to sanitise the state. Our officers are committed to protecting the safety of lives and property and shall continue to give their best in the discharge of their duties,” he said.